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Friday, June 09, 2023

Disney’s ‘Frozen’ Turns on the Warmth at the Hippodrome

Caroline Bowman as Elsa. Photo: Deenvan Meer

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines spectacle as “something exhibited to view as unusual, notable, or entertaining especially an eye-catching or dramatic public display.” The dictionary should also list Frozen, the 2018 stage musical adaptation of the 2013 Walt Disney Oscar-winning animated film now playing at the Hippodrome Theatre, as another definition of spectacle. That is because spectacle is what this show is.

Under the direction of Michael Grandage, choreography of Rob Ashford and musical direction from Conductor Faith Seetoo, the production is well-performed by a talented cast and incredibly staged.

With unbelievable lighting design (Natasha Katz), special effects (Jeremy Chernick), projections (Finn Ross), magnificent scenery design and construction as well as the scintillating costumes (Christopher Oram) the word spectacle is an understatement. There were moments that I simply said, “wow.”

Creating ice and snow on a theater stage is no easy task. Sure, the animated film with its artistry and technical prowess can do that with aplomb. For the stage, Disney’s magic takes over, and the audience is treated to a visual display that must be described as breathtaking.  At one point in the show, there was so much sparkly ice depicted in the scenery and on the stage, I expected a Zamboni to roll across it.

The stage version, making its North America tour, provides additional depth to the characters and expands the song catalogue from 8 to 20. With music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and book by Jennifer Lee, the songs from the original film are wonderful. The added songs are pretty good and are primarily bolstered by the splendid vocals that bring them to life.

"...a visual display that must be characterized as breathtaking."

There is a lot of energy in the show though there are moments when the action slows down because of extended dialogue. And at times the volume for some of the dialogue could be dialed up a notch. But these quibbles don’t detract from what is otherwise a superb production.

 Frozen is an endearing fairy tale that the young and the not so young will enjoy. The story focuses on two orphaned sisters, Elsa and Anna, who are princesses in a Scandinavian kingdom. Their relationship is torn apart when Elsa cannot control her powers in which she can turn everything into ice. When Elsa accidentally hurt her younger sister Anna while building a magical snowman Olaf, that’s when the problems become real.

Years later, Elsa is depressed because she cannot rein in her powers, which left the town of Arendelle (not to be confused with Arundel) in a state of eternal winter.  She remains guilt-ridden for hurting Anna and fears she has become a monster. Elsa heads to the icy mountains and builds an ice palace in order to cope with the situation.

Anna with the help of three friends, the kind-hearted Kristoff; Olaf, the adorable, crowd-pleasing snowman (puppet) whom the sisters built; and Sven, the equally adorable reindeer (also a puppet), go on an adventure-filled trek to find her sister to help restore summer to Arendelle.

Prior to that journey, Anna had fallen for Hans, a handsome prince, who becomes an important figure at the show’s end. But it is the love and bond between the two sisters that warms the heart enough to melt the prevalent ice.

A native of Fulton, Md. in Howard County, Caroline Bowman excels as the adult Elsa. An experienced and polished performer in such Broadway and touring shows as Wicked, Grease, Spamalot, Evita and Kinky Boots among others, Ms. Bowman demonstrates solid acting skills and powerful mezzo-soprano vocals in conveying her burdened character. She belts out the first act finale, Oscar winning “Let It Go,” the popular girl-power anthem, to perfection. Ms. Bowman hits it out of the park with another quality number in the dramatic song “Monster.”

Lauren Nicole Chapman is wonderful as the adult Anna who is determined to find her sister and renew their love for each other. She falls in love with Hans (Will Savarese) only to be betrayed later on. Not all princes are princes apparently. Their duet in the comical “Love Is an Open Door” with its terrific choreography is one of the show’s best. Ms. Chapman and Ms. Bowman hook up well in the emotional “I Can’t Lose You,” a song added to the stage version. The chemistry between the two sisters is amazing.

As Kristoff, the ice harvester who joins Anna on her quest to find Elsa, Dominic Dorset is excellent. With his loveable reindeer Sven (Collin Baja who alternates with Dan Plehal in a physically demanding role) in tow, Mr. Dorset’s character finds himself increasing attracted to Anna.  He performs well in “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People,” “Kristoff Lullaby,” and a duet with Ms. Chapman in “What Do You Know About Love?”

Jeremy Davis is superb as the puppeteer for the snowman Olaf. Both Olaf and Sven are clear audience favorites, especially for the kids in attendance, and provide much of the comical moments throughout.

Christine Bowman as Elsa & Lauren Nicole Chapman as Anna
Photo: Matthew Murphy

Will Savarese does a fine job as Hans. With his matinee idol looks, Mr. Savarese is convincing as the prince that Anna falls for. But his dark side emerges later, leading to a dramatic conclusion. His strong tenor voice is notable in “Hans of the Southern Isles” and the aforementioned duet with Ms. Chapman in “Love Is an Open Door.” He also performs well with Ms. Bowman and the company in “Monster.”

Also, excellent performances are turned in by Avelyn Choi (alternates with Norah Nunes) as Young Anna, Sydney Elise Russell (alternates with Erin Choi) as Young Elsa, Belinda Allen as Queen Iduna, Kyle Lamar Mitchell as King Agnarr, Gretel Scarlett as Head Handmaiden, Tyler Jimenez as Pabbie, Taylor Marie Daniel as Bulda, Jack Brewer as Bishop, Evan Duff as the comedic Weselton, and Jack Brewer as another comical character Oaken. The members of the Ensemble are also talented and energetic.

If you pay close attention, you can identify components of the show that are reminiscent of such Broadway standouts as The Wiz, Into the Woods, Spamalot and Beauty and the Beast, and that’s a good thing.

There is no question that Frozen is geared towards children.  In fact, there were many young girls in the audience dressed as Elsa and Anna, and the lines to the Disney and Frozen merchandise in the lobby were long. However, there is sufficient humor, warmth, songs, dancing and dazzling scenery and costumes to entertain adults as well. And entertain it does.

Go see the spectacle known as Frozen. It will melt your heart.

Running time. Two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission.

Disney’s Frozen runs through June 18 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

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